CUTTING back on sugar can help people make a small but significant fall in weight, an Otago University-led study says.
The study, commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), found that reducing free sugars in the diet produced an average weight reduction of 0.8kg, while increasing sugar intake produced a corresponding increase of 0.75kg.
The findings were the result of researchers studying numerous international studies of the impact on body weight of free sugars – sugars added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus those naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juices.
“It seems easier to overeat if your diet includes lots of sugary foods and drinks. When you overeat you gain weight,” said Dr Lisa Te Morenga of Otago’s Department of Human Nutrition, one of the study’s lead authors.
After searching nearly 8000 trials and 10,000 studies published up to December 2011, the researchers found 68 studies that directly looked at the effects of free sugars on body weight and analysed those.
Dr Te Morenga said few of the studies had data lasting longer than 10 weeks, meaning the extent to which reducing sugars might reduce risk of obesity can’t be extrapolated from the findings.
However, she said that “when considering the rapid weight gain that occurs after an increased intake of sugars, it seems reasonable to conclude that advice relating to sugars intake is a relevant component of a strategy to reduce the high risk of overweight and obesity in most countries”.
There was less clear evidence with children, mainly due to poor compliance with dietary advice.
An editorial by two Boston professors in the British Medical Journal, which published the study, called for greater education, improvement in food and drinks provided at schools and worksites, and increasing tax on sugar-laden drinks.